By: Jackson Hogen
Published: November 5, 2018
Ski testing isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s not any kind of science. It’s a small mountain of subjective opinions from a statistically insignificant population of skiers. Picking any single one as superior to all others in the game is a fun exercise disconnected from reality.
While every ski on every run receives a score, accumulating the best score in any category isn’t an ironclad assurance that said ski is best for everyone contemplating a given genre. For less skilled or less aggressive skiers the top point getter is more likely to be a poor choice rather than an inspired one.
Now that I’ve undermined the credibility of this entire exercise, allow me to unveil my top picks for the 2108/19 season. The models I’ve recognized below aren’t necessarily the top scorers in each category, nor the best sellers, but are my personal selections based on a variety of factors not all of which are captured on a test card. For each category I’ve indicated both a best-in-show and a worthy runner-up.
Inquiring minds that want to investigate all of 2019’s best skis are encouraged to visit Realskiers.com where they’ll find 131 Recommended models for this season and hundreds more from past seasons.
Non-FIS Race: Atomic Redster S9
Strong skiers who want the power of a true race GS without the FIS-sanctioned sidecut, the Head Rebels i.Speed Pro is a dynamo that isn’t content until it’s running hot and raked up at 45 degrees. Posers need not apply.
Technical: Elan Amphibio Black
America isn’t obsessed with carving technique, to put it mildly. This state of affairs is a pity in more ways than one, including the fact that our collective indifference means very few of us will ever savor the delicious arcs that spool off the edge of the Elan Amphibio Black. It’s so smooth, it feels like time is slowing down when in fact you’re pushing 40mph.
No other brand can match Head’s obsession with carving, a focus that imbues every model it makes. The cornerstone of its current success in the US market is its Supershape series, and the Supershape i.Speed is its flagship. It is carving incarnate.
Women’s Technical: Kästle LX73
Kästle’s LX73 is unusual in that it’s an elite ski made for the non-elite skier. Built from the same sturdy stuff as the all-world MX84, the LX73 is softened up and geared down to respond to a lighter load. It’s a confidence-builder for the aspiring expert looking for a balance between forgiveness and response.
Stöckli doesn’t condescend to its customers. If a woman says she wants a race-caliber carving tool, the Swiss enlist Tina Maze to concoct it. The more you pressure the new Laser MX, the more it stiffens, rewarding better skiers with a higher level of response.
Frontside: Kästle MX84
The MX84 isn’t new. It’s more of a flashback model, an icon of a simpler time when all skis were fully cambered and built to carve rather than smear. It delivers the stunning sensation of absorbing and displacing everything in its path, smothering every shock without ever forgetting its first duty is to hold an incorruptible edge.
Most skis with a penchant for carving have a preconceived notion of how they’d like to be skied. Not so the new Liberty V82, a decathlete in a field full of specialists. The V82 accommodates all kinds of skier behavior, from slinky fall-line slalom turns to languid, laid-over bombing runs.
Women’s Frontside: K2 Tough Luv
K2’s are best known for their forgiveness and ease of operation, a tradition the new Tough Luv honors while adding a higher speed range and more energy out of the turn. Most of K2’s Luv collection are step-up skis for skiers who are still developing their skills; the Tough Luv is for those who have already achieved proficiency and don’t mind flaunting it.
The Atomic Vantage X 80 CTi W is made for women in all the right ways. It doesn’t tamper with Atomic’s richest unisex construction that combines both Carbon Tank Mesh and Titanium Backbone, but it does taper the tail and gently elevate the heel to address women-specific issues.
All-Mountain East: Head Kore 93
All-Mountain East is the crossroads category where fat carvers vie with slender off-trail models for the mantle of best one-ski quiver. The Kore 93 is an extension of an off-trail family from a brand better known for its competence at carving, with the added bonus of being almost shockingly lightweight. It’s a unique amalgam that has thrust the Kore 93 into the first rank of skis that handle all terrain with aplomb.
For a more traditional, wood-and-metal feel, it’s hard to beat the Nordica Enforcer 93. Its abrupt front rocker quickly transitions to a traditional, high camber line, giving it loads of energy coming off the edge. A terrain agnostic, it won’t wilt no matter where you aim it.
Women’s All-Mountain East: Völkl Secret
The Völkl Kenja has had a long and very successful run as the benchmark ski in the all-important Women’s All-Mountain East category. It’s time for the Kenja to retire her crown, for the new gal in town is smoking hot and ready for anything. While its shape and baseline suggest an off-trail bias, the Secret’s Titanal Frame construction imparts a glued-to-the-snow sensation that charges through any terrain.
How did the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 become the number one selling ski in America? By exceeding the expectations of women both young and not-so-young, skilled and not-so-skilled, those happiest on groomers or in their bliss off-piste, that’s how. Its runaway popularity has made it the de facto standard in the most important women’s category.
All-Mountain West: Völkl M5 Mantra
Völkl has made 5 Mantras over the past decade, earning the model perhaps the ski world’s largest and most loyal fan base, and in the process virtually creating the All-Mountain West genre. The latest iteration, the M5 Mantra, is like an answered prayer, particularly if the one praying is an expert. The M5’s combination of stability on edge and high energy off it has restored the Mantra to its former glory.
No one has ever made a better all-terrain ski than the Blizzard Bonafide. Whether you like to charge groomers with wide-open GS arcs that never shimmy, pick your way down a narrow chimney or lay waste to crud fields, the Bonafide is all in. A powerful off-trail ski that rewards technical skiing, the Bonnie is an expert’s dream.
Women’s All-Mountain West: Blizzard Black Pearl 98
For a handful of big mountain rippers the Black Pearl 98 can serve as an everyday ski, but for a lot of ladies a ski this wide is best reserved for forays into soft snow. The Black Pearl 98 makes the most challenging condition for lighter weight skiers – manky, cut-up crud – as easy as it’s going to get. Wide enough to float, strong enough to bite into hardpack, the Black Pearl 98 lets a woman develop her full range of off-piste skills.
Women who are strong both physically and technically will often overpower a made-for-women model. One model that won’t wilt under pressure is the Nordica Santa Ana 100, built with two sheets of Titanal to give it crud-busting muscle.
Big Mountain: Nordica Enforcer 110
One of the hardest tricks to pull off in ski design is making a ski possessed of both awesome power and ethereal ease. The Enforcer 110’s wood-and-metal make-up delivers on the power front, blasting crud into inconsequence, yet tester after tester attests to its reflexes and rebound, qualities that make pow and crud much easier to manage.
The Big Mountain genre is loaded with talent. I could name a dozen other models that are a gas to ski, but I’m going with the Salomon QST 106 because I’ve taken it everywhere and it’s never let me down. It’s light but not limp, nimble but never nervous.
Women’s Big Mountain: Blizzard Sheeva 10
Blizzard solves the riddle of how to make a Big Mountain ski that is both light and solid by combining a bit of backcountry tech – unidirectional carbon frame – with the wood, carbon-reinforced fiberglass and Titanal that work so well on trail. The result is a ski that feels floaty and surfy yet never flimsy. At 102mm underfoot it has plenty of flotation yet feels easy to steer.
The Salomon QST Stella is as light and powerful as a teenage gymnast. Its 2019 iteration added extra muscle and still managed to shed 60g. Strands of carbon and flax give it an otherworldly strength-to-weight ratio, perfect for the lighter lass who charges from bell to bell.
Powder: Blizzard Rustler 11
The primary purpose of a Powder ski is, or ought to be, to make the whole enterprise easier, so that it might be prolonged and savored. The Rustler 11 has the work ethic of Homer Simpson: it shows up every day, but it never wants to work very hard. Its soft tip and tail absorb terrain automatically so the skier can stay centered and relaxed.
Powder skis can weigh as much as an SUV, but the featherweight design of the Head Kore 117 provides maximum flotation with minimum avoirdupois. Far from being a noodle – as light skis are wont to be – the Kore 117 is a power powder skier’s paragon: an ultralight carbon chassis outfitted with a Formula One engine.